COVID Creativity - Emery Farm
Name: Holly Philbrick
Business Name: Market & Café at Emery Farm
Industry: Market & Cafe
Location: Durham, NH
SBDC Advisor’s name: Warren Daniel
First, what is your business? What do you do?
We are a local grocery and goods retailer with a café serving coffee and espresso beverages, bagels, sandwiches, and house-made cider donuts and baked goods. We are located on the historic Emery Farm property, with a petting barn and a working fruit and vegetable farm, with seasonal activities such as summer blueberry picking, fall wagon rides and pumpkin sales, and holiday Christmas tree sales.
When the shutdown began, what was the immediate impact on your business?
Fortunately, the market meant we fell in the essential business category. At that time, we had some of the basics covered in our small grocery market, but the café and bakery counter side of the business had been our strong suit. We were just gaining momentum in our new building, with café offerings and indoor seating area around our giant custom community table.
How were you able to adapt (or not) during the first few months of the pandemic?
“Each day early on inside our space it grew increasingly uncomfortable. It has been bizarre just not really knowing for sure what’s going on,” Holly said. “But I just kept coming back to keeping my staff safe and as contactless as possible. When things began to re-open inside, we only had a very small seating area. It just wasn’t worth it to reopen that.”
Immediate changes involved limiting the cafe’s offerings and encouraging everyone to call ahead to place to-go orders for groceries, too. “We worked to expand our own offerings packaged as grab-and-go. We worked diligently to set up the on-line ordering system and source more grocery goods.” Holly said.
She also began closing on Mondays to get caught up with ordering and receiving goods. Next she purchased refrigerator and freezer units, and prevailed at stocking the market with toilet paper, bulk flour, yeast, and frozen meats—the items that had become scare and were in high demand.
“Orders for goods increased daily, and the market no longer looked like a store, but a warehouse. Boxes were stacked everywhere with several order-packing stations in between,” Holly explained.
Staff began new roles, and she says they found it quite satisfying to pack the orders and stack them on the pick-up shelves.
She credits local customers with helping Emery Farm stay open. “We all felt grateful, and we felt a sense of purpose as we provided a needed service to our community.”
Once businesses were able to open in NH, how did you adapt your business, services, products, and/or physical space?
In mid-May, the outdoor garden center part of Emery Farm was re-opened, slowly. Gloves and masks were required, and the porch was set-up as a contactless checkout area. “Lots of protocol-reinforcing signage dotted the property,” Holly said.
By the end of May, she had established a service window from which she offered limited cafe items. Eventually, she put out a few picnic tables, widely spread and regularly sanitized.
By early July, online orders had tapered off as people ventured out more and more. Soon she let them in the market to self-shop, again with strict mask and sanitizing protocols. When the blueberries were ready for picking, customer traffic soared. “We were offering a popular, socially distanced outdoor activity,” Holly said.
Will you continue the changes and adaptations you have made once concerns over COVID-19 are behind us? Are you planning to institute more changes in the near future?
Holly says no indoor seating will be allowed yet, with cooler weather at hand. She’ll do that only when it feels like the right thing to do, and that’s not yet. “It is tricky and kind of sad that we can’t make our space feel inviting and warm, as was always our intent. We want to be a community space,” Holly said.
“The growth of offerings in our market was a nudge in a good direction,” Holly said. “I hope to keep adding and growing this side of the business.”
She is working on a new online ordering system with nearly 800 different items, which has been a huge project. When ready, it will be easier for all to use.
Are you collaborating with other businesses, municipalities, organizations, etc. for the first time or differently than in the past? If so, in what ways?
“Working with small local vendors for our supplies has really been a team effort,” Holly said. She stocks Terra Cotta Pasta lasagna and garlic bread, and she sells dozens of bags of White Heron coffee and chai, for example. In all she works with over 100 local vendors.
“We collaborated with a neighboring oyster farm, Cedar Point Oysters, to start offering pre-ordered oysters each week,” Holly explains. “This gave them a new outlet for their harvest at the time their restaurant accounts were closed.”
The community of Greater Durham has been extremely supportive, Holly says, even though her market is outside the central business district. “We’ve appreciated the town’s efforts at communicating the protocols, disseminating information, and implementing programs to supporting small businesses. The town has gone above and beyond being advocates,” she said. The adoption of a town wide mask ordinance made her job that much easier.
If you have employees, how has your workforce been affected?
Emery Farm lost a few key staff members at the onset of COVID because they were at higher risk or needed to quarantine for various reasons. “We were at 10 employees pre-COVID, went down to 7 mid-COVID, and are now up to 17 and going strong,” Holly said.
How are you communicating with customers now? Are you marketing in the same ways you were prior to COVID-19?
Our strongest and most direct communication is through social media, with over 4800 followers on Facebook and 2400 on Instagram and growing. We definitely saw stronger engagement activity during the height of COVID,” Holly said. “We tried to keep customers informed, with as positive a message as possible.”
How has NH SBDC helped you and your business, especially in the last year?
“I have worked closely with my SBDC advisor, Warren Daniel, for years, but the breadth of services and support has been extraordinary during this crisis,” Holly said. She took advantage of webinars that helped her navigate COVID protocols and the various relief programs. “They have been a saving grace. Deciphering the constant changes has been overwhelming on top of keeping already abnormal business operations together.”
From which of the following relief programs have you received funds?
Holly received an EIDL and said it presented a great opportunity to gain a little cushion in the face of financial uncertainty, to meet ongoing and operational expenses, which had increased substantially with the need for sanitation supplies, new equipment, and PPE.
If you received a PPP loan, tell us your own and your employees’ story.
“These funds enabled us to keep going strong,” Holly said. “No hours were cut for staff and business operational funds were kept above water.
This client story is part of NH SBDC's ongoing collection of COVID Creativity stories about businesses surviving and thriving during COVID-19.